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The Consequences of 9/11

Omkar Goswami


Five years have passed since 9/11. As the relatives of the dead try to come to terms with living, the terrorists have continued with their mayhem. Consider the facts:

  •          the first Bali blast of October 2002; claimed over 200 lives;

  •          the Madrid blasts of March 2004 killing over 175 people;

  •          the London blasts of July 2005 killing 37;

  •          the second Bali blast of October 2005 killing 26;

  •          the Delhi blasts of October 2005 killing over 50;

  •          the Amman blast of 9 November 2005 killed 57; and

  •          the Mumbai train blasts of 11July 2006 that killed almost 200 people.


Between that morning of 9/11 and today, some 4,000 innocent people have been killed by major bomb blasts — not counting the hundreds, nay thousands, who have died in the hands of Shiite and Sunni gunmen in Iraq. 9/11 has fundamentally altered the rationale for terrorism. Its consequences are as manifold as they are grim.


First, and foremost in my mind, killing and maiming a large number of people in the most horrific way is now treated as a grand television spectacle for the terrorists. We are dealing with a small yet rapidly growing cohort of Islamic jihadis who don’t any  compunction about massacring innocent people — the greater and more concentrated the better. With the Tupameros or the Red Brigade, it was death to the class enemies. With a jihadi, it is death to all non-believers, which includes the Shiites if you are a Sunni bomber, and Sunnis if you are a Shiite killer.


These jihadis know that in high surveillance zones, there is probably less than a one-in-two hundred chance of success. But after 9/11, they also know that the impact can be so great that it makes all risks worth taking.


Second, how does one systematically deter those who are brainwashed into believing that dying while annihilating non-believers is a shortcut to Paradise and its houris? People who are revered among their kith and kin as fallen warriors of the noble cause? Whose families are honoured and feted in the same way as those of the women who committed sati?


Third, there is an awesome asymmetry. The targets of terror in democratic societies believe in the right of dissent and equality before law. The perpetrators do not — at least in the way in which we consider it our birthright. Worse, they consider us to be effete and immoral objects for believing in the right of dissent and, therefore, even more worthy of extermination. It is a bizarre situation where the modern day Voltaire in the form of civil society will disagree with everything the jihadi says but defend to death his right to say it, while the jihadi will do nothing of the kind. The fear is that the more frequently these terrorists strike, the greater is the risk of us losing the personal, civic and societal freedoms that we hold so dear.


It’s a skewed game. Only 0.5% of the attempts will probably succeed. But each success will have such severe impact that the state will have to use more widespread and blunter deterrence instruments — such as greater racial profiling, more search and seizure, arrests without warrants and selective elimination of habeas corpus. And in countries like India with incompetent policing and intelligence gathering, even these liberty-denying actions won’t suffice. 


Third, and most frighteningly, the acts of a minuscule fanatic minority threaten to paint the vast majority of Muslims with the same brush. It has begun to happen in drawing rooms, bars, tea shops and cafes. More of the same, and it can spill out on to vengeful streets. After all, it happened in Delhi in 1984, Mumbai in 1993 and Gujarat in 2002. That, to my mind, is the worst consequence of what 9/11 has unleashed. Unfortunately, neither I nor most of us can think of sensible solutions. We are dealing with insanity.


Published: Business World, September 2006


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